Railroads and train travel

Railroads And Train Travel

The addition of railroads and train transportation in America is considered to be one of the biggest developments for westward expansion, trade, and the growing economy. What once took months to get products and people across the country, now took days thanks to the railway. Thousands of immigrants built the railroads, and the final completion brought a change in all aspects of life, including economic, political, and social.

  • Most of the early locomotives were built and imported from England. However, American companies soon took the lead in building the trains at home as they were looking for a larger and more expansive way to replace the slow canal and river systems that were used to transport people and goods.
  • Traveling on the railroad system was inexpensive, and this was an encouragement for the continued growth of the western states. One of the other benefits of the railway system was that it also required other recent inventions and construction: these included bridges, train depots, better train technology, and engine improvements to pull bigger loads.
  • With increased trade abilities, the railroad also launched the industrial revolution to create products that would be moved across the country. As people used the railroads to move into the new territories, they also knew that they would get products and manufactured goods.
  • The train system also increased how people communicated. Before the railroads, it might take months for news and information to reach across the country. The U.S. mail system made use of the trains by having a bag of mail hanging from a tall hook. As the train passed, the hook on the train would grab the bag and collect it for delivery.
  • While there was an incredible increase in train travel and moving products, the early trains were very dangerous. It has to be remembered that this kind of huge undertaking, across thousands of miles, had never been done before. Many of the early railroad companies were basically experimenting with what worked, and when it didn’t, there were a lot of injuries and deaths.
  • The companies tried various construction methods that often failed, including using big stones as support for the structure of the tracks. When they sank into the soil, the tracks lost their alignment, and trains would get derailed. Another method that they used was to put iron strap rails on the wooden tracks. Over time, they would work loose and cause what they called “snakeheads” that destroyed the passenger car wooden floors, injuring or killing the passengers. The businessmen that were backing the railway construction didn’t care about public safety, only in the profits that they could make.
  • Early train travel was also uncomfortable for passengers. The wheels were loud and screeching, and when the train went under a tunnel, the smoke and ash from the engine would get all over the passengers and their bags.
  • Even with the problems of the railway system, it allowed settlers and immigrants to move westward and reduced travel time by 90%. New towns and cities were created all along the train routes, which encouraged the product demands.


Where were the first locomotives built that were supplied to the United States?

What did the railway replace as the major method of moving goods and people around the country?
Canal and river systems

How did the railway system increase communication?
U.S. Mail used trains to transport mail faster

What were some of the bad experiences that passengers had in early train travel?
Loud screeching noise of the wheels and smoke and ask entering the passenger cars

Why were there so many accidents in the early railway system?
Construction methods were experimental and businessmen didn’t care about safety

What percentage did trains reduce travel time across the country?